DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Israel's prime minister on Sunday directly blamed Iran for a drone attack on an oil tanker off the coast of Oman that killed two people as Tehran denied being involved in the assault.
The comments by Premier Naftali Bennett and Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh come after the strike Thursday night on the oil tanker Mercer Street, which marked the first-known fatal attack after years of assaults on commercial shipping in the region linked to tensions with Iran over its tattered nuclear deal.
While no one has claimed responsibility for the attack, Iran and its militia allies have used so-called “suicide” drones in attacks previously.
On Sunday, Khatibzadeh described the allegation Iran carried out the attack as “baseless” during his last news conference.
“It's not the first time that the Zionist regime occupying Jerusalem has made such empty accusations against the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Khatibzadeh said. “Wherever this regime has gone, it has taken instability, terror and violence with it.”
He added: “Whoever sows the wind shall reap the whirlwind."
Khatibzadeh spoke around an hour after Iran’s outgoing president acknowledged that his government at times “did not tell part of the truth” to the public during his term.
In Jerusalem, Bennett directly blamed Iran for the attack at a weekly Cabinet meeting.
The American nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and the guided missile destroyer USS Mitscher were escorting the Mercer Street as it headed to a safe port, the U.S. Navy’s Mideast-based 5th Fleet said in a statement early Saturday. It said Navy explosive experts believe a drone attacked the vessel.
The drone attack blasted a hole through the top of the oil tanker’s bridge, where the captain and crew command the vessel, a U.S. official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity as an investigation into the attack still was ongoing.
The Mercer Street is managed by London-based Zodiac Maritime, part of Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer’s Zodiac Group. The firm said the attack killed two crew members, one from the United Kingdom and the other from Romania. It did not name them, nor did it describe what happened in the assault. It said it believed no other crew members on board were harmed.
British maritime security firm Ambrey said the attack on the Mercer Street had killed one of its team members on board the vessel.
Associated Press writers Isabel DeBre in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Ilan Ben Zion in Jerusalem contributed to this report.
Jon Gambrell, The Associated Press